We were on the top of the keep, a square of stone. The lamassu landed at the end, its distinctive green eyes furious and familiar. Radomil.
The lamassu walked paw over paw, his cavernous mouth open wide.
I flexed my left wrist, popping a silver spike out of the wrist guard into my palm. I used to have needles, but I could afford more silver now.
Radomil bent his head low, his muscles tensing.
"Bring it." I pulled magic to me. I'd timed it last time. I'd have a second and a half.
I sprinted. "Aarh!" Stop.
The pain of a power word exploded in the back of my skull. Blackness mugged me. My momentum carried me through it. I tore through the haze.
Time slowed to a crawl.
Radomil stood frozen in midstep. I punched the spike into his throat, stabbed Slayer into his gut, and dragged the blade, wrenching it with all my strength, ripping a gap in his stomach from foreleg to hindquarters.
Radomil's legs trembled. I yanked a bag of powdered silver granules from my belt, ripped it, and emptied it into the wound.
Radomil whipped about. Claws scoured my back. It felt like someone had dripped molten metal down my spine.
Right now silver was burning his insides. The longer it melted his innards, the less work I'd have to do. The sound of huge feet thumping behind me chased me, blocking out the roar of the fire. I lunged to the side. He hurtled past me and whirled, snarling. Gray blood wet the cut. Singed with silver, the laceration refused to close, and his body sped up the bleeding, trying to purge the poisonous metal from his system.
Radomil swayed and charged me. A big feline paw raked at me. I sliced with my sword. He swiped at me again, like a housecat trying to shred a toy, except Radomil was forty times the size of a housecat. I cut across his paw.
Radomil rammed me. I clutched onto his scales and stabbed into his chest with my sword. He leaped up, the wings beating, roaring in pain. I hung from his neck fifty feet above the fire raging below. To let go was to die. Radomil bent in midair. The claws of his hind feet ripped into my armor, down my side, and deep into my right leg. My whole body hurt so much, I no longer cared.
Radomil careened back toward the keep, screaming. The gap in his stomach hung open. Now or never. I stabbed my sword straight into the wound. Radomil plunged down. My hand slipped off the scales. For one desperate half-second I held on, and then I fell. There was no time to right myself. The orange body thudded onto the stone with a wet thud. I fell next to it.
* * *
The world swam. The air vanished, sucked out of the Universe. I gulped like a fish on dry land, trying to inhale and failing. Don't pass out. Just don't pass out.
My lungs opened. I inhaled smoke-ruined air, coughed, and rolled upright. My left arm hung limp. It hurt so much, I couldn't tell if it was broken. Hot wetness ran down my back. I was bleeding.
The orange body shivered and melted back into human form. Radomil's beautiful face looked at the sky.
Everything hurt. It hurt so much, I could no longer tell what hurt the worst. But I was still breathing. Without the armor, I would've been dead. His claws would've finished me.
I staggered to my feet and dragged myself to the door leading down. A wall of fire greeted me. The heat pushed me back. Out of the question. The flames would cook me two steps in.
I limped to the eastern side of the keep and looked down. The wall was sheer, the stones fitted together so closely they might as well have been a single smooth block of concrete. No way. With a rope, maybe, and even that was risky. Bleeding, ropeless, and with one bum arm, no.
Flames filled the courtyard. The roofs of the side towers had crashed down and the blackened beams popped like logs in the fireplace. Cracks filled with orange-and-blue flames fractured the huge building. The castle was breaking apart. It looked like hell on Earth.
The doors of a side tower burst. Furry shapes ran out-shapeshifters in half-form making a break for the gates. I saw Christopher's blue shirt. The familiar gray werelion was missing. Curran wasn't with them. He hadn't made it out. Where are you?
I inhaled a lungful of sooty air. "Hey! Andrea! Look up!"
They didn't hear me. They were running too fast, the way one ran when chased.
People in black and gray poured out of the doors. The Iron Dogs, at least fifteen, probably more.
The shapeshifters ran through the fire. Derek's shaggy back flared, the fur igniting in a flash. He kept running, carrying Doolittle forward. The Iron Dogs followed as if the fire weren't even there.
Go, I willed, go.
A lean, darker bouda stopped and turned around. Raphael. Andrea skidded to a stop, a smaller slender creature.
The first Iron Dog fell on them, a tall lean man, swinging an axe. Magic sparked and bit Andrea in the chest. She snarled and clawed the Iron Dog's side. Raphael tore his stomach. The man swung, oblivious to his guts hanging out. The axe grazed Raphael. He batted it aside and sliced the man's throat.
Raphael and Andrea backed away, toward the gates.
A huge woman, six and a half feet tall and wearing armor, ran at them. Eduardo wheeled about and charged, back toward the fight. Andrea and Raphael stepped to the side and he rammed into the woman. They struggled, locked in a deadly grappling match. Eduardo clamped her, and Raphael and Andrea ripped at her from both sides. She shuddered.
At the gates, Aunt B handed George to Keira, spun around, and headed back.
The three shapeshifters dragged the Iron Dog down, ripping her apart. An arm flew, tossed aside.
The rest of the Iron Dogs were almost on them. I squeezed my fists. What are you doing? Go! Run.
Aunt B grabbed Raphael and Andrea by their shoulders and hurled them back. Eduardo reared. She screamed at him. He hesitated a moment and ran toward the gates. Aunt B followed.
The Iron Dogs were closing in, Hibla in the lead.
Raphael and Andrea cleared the gates. The werebuffalo charged through with Aunt B at his heels.
It wouldn't help. The Dogs would chase them all the way to the ship. That ship couldn't pull out fast enough.
Aunt B stopped before the gates.
She hit the winch on the side of the gate. The metal portcullis crashed down, cutting her off from the rest of the shapeshifters.
Andrea screamed. I heard her even through the roar of the fire. Raphael grabbed the steel grate.
Aunt B planted herself in front of the winch. She could scale the wall, but she stayed where she was. She was buying her son and Andrea time.
Someone pulled Raphael away from the portcullis from the other side.
The Iron Dogs were almost there.
I had one more power word left in me. One more. I wasn't getting off this tower anyway. I pulled together what weak magic I had left and spat it out. "Osanda." Kneel, you bastards.